The Century Chest Collection

Choctaw and Chickasaw Treaty Rights Message

(Transcribed from the original)


As chairman of the permanent organization known as the "Treaty Rights Association" of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations (and also as Governor of the Chickasaw Nation) I have called you together, in mass convention, to consider and act upon important matters vitally affecting the rights and interests of the Chickasaw Nation and people of this time.

Under conditions heretofore existing, since the removal of our people to their western home, more than three generations ago, our legislative body assembled each year, at our capital, to not only pass laws, but to make known to our guardian, the great government of the United States, the wishes of the Chickasaws relative to the administration and disposition of their trust property and moneys.

During the whole term of my service as Governor, until very recent years, the responsibility of taking necessary action for the protection of our Nation and people, when their rights and interests have been assailed from within and from without, has been shared with our legislative body. This responsibility our legislative body shared with a degree of courage, patriotism and statesmanship not excelled by a like body of any state; and whatever credit is due for what has been accomplished throughout this most strenuous and thrilling period of our tribal history should be generously divided among those devoted members who saw service for many long years upon the firing lines and open fields of our Nation's battles.

Now however, this body no longer has legal existence. It is not for us to now question the justness or fairness of the changes recent years have brought about in our tribal affairs. When the government of the United States, in its wisdom, saw fit to practically abolish our tribal government it was doubtless in the belief that the passing of tribal autonomy would witness an actual closing up of tribal affairs and a distribution, per capita, of tribal properties and moneys.

Events have shown this belief not to have been well founded. Millions u0pon millions of dollars in value of tribal property remain undivided and undisposed of. We are still being attacked from many quarters by those who would wrongfully share in this property when disposition and division finally comes. There still remain, unconsidered and unsettled, claims and controversies running into aggregate sums of money almost beyond the belief of those not familiar with the history of our affairs. Some of these matters are now pending and some are still to be presented to the courts, the Executive Departments and to Congress.

If the rights and interests of the Chickasaws are to be adequately protected constant and devoted service, upon the part of the accredited representatives of the tribe, is required.

I am not willing to bear these responsibilities alone when they may be shared with those who are vitally and individually affected; and I know of no better plan than to call together, in mass convention, the leading citizens of the tribe.

I shall, in this communication, lay before you such information as I have upon the subjects requiring consideration and action at your hands, together with my suggestions and recommendations; and in whatever action you may take I am confident that you will be moved by sentiments of the loftiest patriotism and devotion to the best interests of the Chickasaw Nation and people.

The interests of our people demand that there be a revision of the laws relating to the removal of restrictions upon the alienation of Indian lands.

Under existing law there are three classes of citizens, insofar as alienation of lands is concerned: The unrestricted, the semi-restricted and the restricted.

Those of less than one-half Indian blood are unrestricted and may alienate their lands without supervision. Those of one-half Indian blood are semi-restricted. They may sell their surplus land without supervision; and their homestead allotments, if found competent by the Secretary of the Interior. Those having more than one-half Indian blood are wholly restricted, as regards the alienation of their lands. They may sell no part of their allotments without the approval of the Secretary of the Interior.

The present system is not effective. The laws are complicated and difficult of application. The facilities of the Interior Department are neither adequate nor sufficient for the administration of these laws.

I believe that all the lands of those having less than three-fourths Indian blood should be made alienable at once; and that there should be an immediate distribution of all moneys due them, now held by the government.
This view is justified when we consider that the matter of the competency or incompetency of an individual having less than three-fourths Indian blood is not dependent upon the fact of Indian blood. If competent, there can be no objection to the removal of restrictions. If incompetent such incompetency undoubtedly arises out of causes other than Indian blood and the status of such person would parallel, before the laws of the land, that of all other races similarly situated.

I believe all will concede that those of three-fourths or more of Indian blood should be surrounded with proper safeguards and restrictions upon the alienation of their lands. Such persons are full bloods for all practical purposes and their lack of familiarity with business conditions and the language and customs of the white man gives rise to the necessity for adequate protection of their property rights.

I know of no better plan than a practical continuance of the present system of supervision by local agents of the Interior Department. These officials are on the ground, can personally know of the competency of the Indian and the value of the property sought to be disposed of and are also free from local political influence so harmful, in many instances, to the discharge of their official duty. These agents can only be efficient and of benefit to those whom it is their duty to serve, under the law, if given proper facilities. I think we should urge that Congress make sufficient appropriation for this purpose.

No matter now pending approaches, in magnitude and importance the claim of the Chickasaws and Choctaws for compensation for those western lands known as the "Leased District".

For many years other matters then pressing demanded the undivided efforts, before Congress and the Departments, of the representatives of the tribes. I have special reference to the settlement of citizenship claims, the suit for compensation for lands allotted Chickasaw Freedmen and the suit to prevent the taxation of Indian lands made non-taxable by treaty provisions.

I have always realized the justice of the demand of the Chickasaws and Choctaws for compensation for the "Leased District" land and the magnitude of the sum of money to which the members of the tribes were entitled upon a fair settlement of the claim, and the time is now at hand for the Chickasaws and Choctaws to make known their appeal, in dignified and solemn terms, for such a settlement of this great claim as, in equity and justice, should be accorded a helpless ward by a strong and powerful guardian.

Under the treaty of 1866 the Chickasaws and Choctaws "ceded" these western lands to the United States for certain specific purposes. These purposes were, among other things, for the settlement of friendly Indians, for the removal of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Freedmen and also for the settlement of such members of the tribes as might desire to remove thereto. The treaty also provided for a fund of $300,000.00 which was to be held in trust by the United States pending the removal or adoption of the freedmen. It was provided that the Chickasaw and Choctaw Freedmen were to be removed if the tribe failed to adopt them within two years, in which event the $300,000.00 was to be used for such removal. If the tribes adopted such freedmen, within the time specified, they were to have the benefit of the $300,000.00.

The Chickasaw Freedmen were never adopted. That tribe has never claimed nor has it ever received any part of the consideration. As to whether the Choctaw Freedmen were legally adopted has always been a question and that question has no bearing upon our present claim.

Certain friendly Indians were settled on these lands under the provisions of the treaty. The right of the Choctaws and Chickasaws to additional compensation for the land so used has been established by the action of Congress, in its direct appropriation of money for the payment of same to the tribes. This money was paid out, per capita, in 1893, and is referred to as the "Leased District" payment. The lands for which compensation is now asked were comprised in the same area. These lands aggregate some six million acres (a part of the same area "ceded" in 1866 for the same specific purposes). They are included in the State of Oklahoma and were disposed of by the United States, to settlers upon the public domain, for many million of dollars.
In the case of "The Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations vs. The United States and the Wichitas and affiliated bands of Indians" the meaning of the treaty of 1866, in "ceding" these lands to the United States, was passed upon the Court of Claims and the Supreme Court of the United States. The decision of the Court of Claims was in favor of the tribes. It held that the treaty of 1866 constituted a lease, and that when the United States ceased to use the land for the specific purposes therein set forth title reverted to the tribes. Upon appeal, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the Court of Claims and held that the cession in the treaty of 1866 was a conveyance, and that the tribes had no legal title to the land. The Supreme Court, however, stated that any equitable claim for compensation on behalf of the tribes should be presented to Congress. It was certainly in the mind of the Supreme Court that there was an equity, in favor of the Indians worthy of the substantial consideration of Congress. The Supreme Court does not use language idly and without meaning. Its view, undoubtedly, was our view at this time: The word "cede" has a definite legal meaning which the Supreme Court could not avoid, that the parties did not intend to convey title or to receive title, that the employment of the word "cede" was unfortunate and not expressive of the intentions of the parties and that a duty rests upon Congress to make reparation by paying a fair value for the lands so taken.

In view of this decision our claim is based on equity, and we only ask such a settlement as any court in the civilized world would require a powerful guardian to make with its helpless ward.

The arguments, in support of our claim for compensation for these lands, would appear to be irresistible. The Indians say they understood the treaty to be a lease and not a conveyance. The Court of Claims, in an able and exhaustive opinion, sustained this view. The Supreme Court held to the contrary. These two great courts differed. The language of the treaty was sufficiently uncertain to support conflicting opinions of two great courts.

The whole line of decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States from the famous case of "The Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia" down to the tax decision in our favor of only a few months ago, holds that Indian treaties must be construed as the Indians understood them, and that any doubtful meanings must be construed in their favor.

Did the United States mean to acquire title, and did the Indians mean to convey it? The Supreme Court has said that the language employed amounts to a conveyance, but it appears to be clear that the parties intended a lease and not a conveyance. If it had intended to take title the United States would have permitted no conditions, as to use, to encumber the title. It would not have agreed to use the land for certain definite purposes. The Choctaws and Chickasaws were leasing their land, for a nominal consideration, for the accomplishment of certain things desirable to them, to-wit: The settlement of friendly Indians, as a protection against the wild and warlike tribes to the west, and to be relieved of their freedmen. This very treaty, under which these lands were "ceded" also provided that any Choctaws or Chickasaws desiring to do so might remove to and settle on these lands. If the Indians were selling and the United States buying these lands, would this privilege have been required by the tribes or granted by the United States?

The whole series of transactions attending the making of the treaty and up to the present day tend to show that the Indians did not mean to part with the title and that the United States did not mean to acquire it, but that these lands, then far removed from civilization were being used for the convenience of both the United States and the Choctaws and Chickasaws, and that the matter of title did not enter into the plans of either of the parties to the treaty.

After all of this the only question now arising is: What final settlement is the United States, as guardian, willing to make with its wards, the Choctaws and Chickasaws?

If both parties were properly before a Court of Justice, what settlement, under all the facts and transactions, would the United States be required, in equity and good conscience, to make.

That is the basis of our claim. The government of The United States is made up of an aggregate of individuals, having human experiences and actuated by sentiments of fairness and justice; and I have perfect confidence in our ability to secure such a settlement of this claim as will be fair and just, both to the government of the United States and to the Choctaws and Chickasaws.

In 1906, upon the request of the Chickasaws and Choctaws, the citizenship rolls were re-opened for the enrollment of "new born" children of regularly enrolled citizens and members.

The "Supplementary Agreement" of 1902 (Section 3) definitely defines the terms "citizens and members" as follows:

"The word 'member' or 'members' and 'citizen or 'citizens' shall be held to mean members or citizens of the Choctaw or Chickasaw tribe of Indians in Indian Territory, not including freedmen."

Notwithstanding the use of these terms in the Act of 1902, the government of the United States saw fit to hold that the "new born" children of Choctaw Freedmen were entitled to enrollment; and accordingly approximately five hundred have been enrolled and given forty acre allotments. These allotments aggregate, in value, several hundred thousand dollars. The law is so plain and the rights of the Chickasaws and Choctaws have been so clearly violated that I have no doubt of our ability to reach a fair adjustment of the controversy, when properly presented and considered.

It is with distinct pleasure that I call your attention to the sentiments and harmony and friendship existing between the citizens of our tribe (who are also citizens of the great State of Oklahoma) and the other citizens of the State. This you already know more fully than I can here set forth.

With the passing of the tax litigation, there are now no matters, either of sentiment or of property rights, over which differences could properly arise. That controversy was merely a difference of opinion in the construction of laws and treaties. This Association authorized the institution of litigation testing the question as to the legal right of the state to impose taxes upon Indian lands exempted from taxation by treaty provisions. That litigation is now ended and the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States sustaining the contentions of the Indians causes the whole matter to pass into history.

If the measures now so earnestly advocated by us are carried into laws and made effective we will not only be directly benefited, but every citizen of the State will likewise benefited. I refer to the early sale of all surplus and unallotted lands, the removal of restrictions upon the alienation of the lands of those competent to manage their own affairs, the collection from the United States of just claims now pending and the distribution, per capita, among the Chickasaw People, of all moneys due them.

The direct benefit to the State will be the placing upon the tax rolls of a vast acreage of land not now taxable and the distribution, throughout the State, of a vast volume of money amounting to many millions of dollars now useless and idel in the hands of the United States government.

I say these conditions of common interest lead to harmony and friendship between the Indians citizens and the white citizens. These conditions have already led to these relations. Many of our most prominent Indian citizens hold responsible official positions, from township to State government and also in the Congress and Senate of the United States. Our children attend, side by side, with the children of our white fellow citizens, the schools of the State, from neighborhood school districts to the highest institutions of learning; and the relations thus formed have already led, are now leading, and will lead in the future, to a mutual understanding and regard of great advantage to both races and the whole State.

I now suggest, in conclusion, that you proceed to the organization of this convention, by the election of necessary and proper officers; and that, after organization, you proceed to consider and act upon the matters presented to you in this communication and such other matters affecting the rights and interests of our Nation and people as may properly come before you, to the end that I, in my official capacity as Governor, may usefully and effectively represent you.

Respectfully submitted,
Governor of the Chickasaw Nation and Chairman of the "Treaty Rights Association" of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations.

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